American Banjo Museum: Evolution of an American Instrument

It’s been said that you can never play a sad song on a banjo.  How true that is. When I think of banjo music, I think of ragtime, the Roaring Twenties and bluegrass, upbeat toe-tapping music. The American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City celebrates the evolution of the banjo with over 400 unique banjos on display, plus memorabilia, a hall of fame and special exhibits.

American Banjo Museum, Oklahoma City

American Banjo Museum Overview

Start your self-guided museum tour with the eight-minute overview presentation about the evolution of the banjo, an instrument developed by African slaves.

Evolution of banjosBrowsing through the exhibits, you’ll see how the banjo evolved through the various eras and genres of music—and there are a lot more music genres that use banjos than I originally thought. Banjos created for classical music are very plain. Bluegrass banjos are subdued with wood inlays, kind of a backwoods feel. When you get to the jazz age, the instruments are flashy, since showmanship was just as important as the musical talent during that era of live performances.

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The Banjo World of Steve Martin

Through January 2017 the American Banjo Museum is hosting the temporary exhibit titled “The Banjo World of Steve Martin.” You are probably familiar with the comedy of Steve Martin, but if you ever watched his television performances on Saturday Night Live, you most likely have seen him play the banjo as well. Steve Martin is a long-time accomplished banjo player and has won several Grammy Awards.

American Banjo Museum Steve Martin exhibit The exhibit is temporary to the American Banjo Museum but is not a traveling exhibit; you won’t see it anywhere else. Photos are originals, not published elsewhere. The exhibit includes the first banjo Martin ever bought—the one he learned to play on—as well as videos of Steve Martin performing.

Some of the more unusual banjos

Besides displaying banjo styles used through various eras and music genres,  the museum has several banjos that stand out because of their exceptionalism.  The museum has what are believed to be the only two triangular banjos in existence. The reason there are only two? Although they look really cool, they sound horrible, according to Dustin Pyeatt, the Outreach and Development Manager for the American Banjo Museum.

triangle banjos, one two known in the worldThere are electric banjos, a bass banjo and several custom-made banjos on display. Being partial to carousels, one of my favorites was the carousel horse banjo. The donor had the carousel horse custom made for his wife, but it was never played.

specialty banjos at the American Banjo Museum

American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame

In the Hall of Fame section of the museum, you’ll find instruments and memorabilia donated by or loaned to by members or their estates, including some of their performance outfits that range from flashy to outlandish.

Performance Outfits in the Banjo Hall of Fame

Events at the American Banjo Museum

A performance area in the museum is modeled after an international nightclub chain called Your Father’s Mustache. Events at the museum include performances by groups like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a chance for beginners to try out a banjo, and presentations on history of a particular banjo followed by a performance on that banjo by the museum’s executive director, Johnny Baier.

Your Father's Mustache in the American Banjo Museum

If you visit the American Banjo Museum

The American Banjo Museum, located at 9 E Sheridan Avenue in the Bricktown District of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is open Tuesday through Saturday (closed Mondays). Check the website for hours, admission fees and other details.

American Banjo Museum

Accommodations: We stayed at the Ambassador Hotel Oklahoma City Autograph Collection during our visit to Oklahoma City. Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.

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Disclosures: My visit to the American Banjo Museum was hosted by the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau and the museum. My admission was complimentary; however, any opinions expressed in this article are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link, which means that if you book a room using this link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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22 thoughts on “American Banjo Museum: Evolution of an American Instrument

  • April 12, 2016 at 11:28 pm
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    What a fun museum! I’m loving all the things you are introducing me to in Oklahoma City.

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    • April 13, 2016 at 4:32 pm
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      Thank you, Sarah!

      Reply
  • April 16, 2016 at 11:15 am
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    What a neat collection of banjos at this unique museum. Have to visit more of the Midwest.

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    • April 17, 2016 at 12:44 pm
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      More different kinds of banjos than I ever knew existed!

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    • April 17, 2016 at 12:45 pm
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      It really is a fun museum to visit.

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  • April 16, 2016 at 3:21 pm
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    I love weird and wonderful museums, and this sounds really educational! I want to go and pick up a banjo now!

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    • April 17, 2016 at 12:46 pm
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      They do have occasional events where beginners can pick up a banjo a learn the basics.

      Reply
  • April 16, 2016 at 5:01 pm
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    Oh, how interesting! I had no idea Steve Martin is a banjo player, although if memory serves me, I think Ed Helms is a banjo player too. Looks like a fun stop in Oklahoma City! 🙂

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    • April 17, 2016 at 12:50 pm
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      I didn’t know Steve Martin played the banjo either. Honestly, I always fell asleep before Saturday Night Live came on. He apparently used to play it a lot on that show. I just confirmed that Ed Helms plays the banjo, too.

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  • April 16, 2016 at 11:03 pm
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    Finally a museum my husband would love! If we ever make it to Oklahoma City I know where we will be going!

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    • April 17, 2016 at 12:51 pm
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      Use the American Banjo Museum as a lure to get your husband to Oklahoma City.

      Reply
  • April 17, 2016 at 3:55 am
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    That’s a cool museum. Did not know that it exists. Looks like fun for Banjo loves.

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    • April 17, 2016 at 12:51 pm
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      Apparently a lot of well-known musicians have visited the museum, including Elton John and his entire entourage.

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    • April 17, 2016 at 12:54 pm
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      Banjo and calliope are the two happiest kinds of music I can think of.

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  • April 17, 2016 at 7:06 am
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    I’ve never heard of the Banjo Museum, but it sounds interesting! I would love to visit Oklahoma City at some point so we will put it on our list of places to see.

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    • April 17, 2016 at 12:55 pm
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      There is a whole lot more to do and see in Oklahoma than I ever knew. It’s a great place to visit.

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  • April 17, 2016 at 8:05 am
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    This is a very fun museum, I have never seen a banjo before! Thanks for sharing!

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    • April 17, 2016 at 12:56 pm
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      You have to not just see, but also hear a banjo to really appreciate it.

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    • April 17, 2016 at 12:57 pm
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      I didn’t know there was a banjo museum here either. I believe it’s the only museum dedicated to banjos in the world.

      Reply

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